“Gorgeous,” Magnus says from behind me, his voice so low and rough that it makes me think he might not be talking about the view at all. He stops right behind me, his hot breath on my skin.
I swallow hard and feel the little hairs on the back of my neck rise. Every memory of last night comes flooding back to me, but they had never left to begin with. I’ve just been too afraid to think about it.
But now, with the heat of Magnus’s large body behind me, it’s all I can think about. It demands I pay it attention.
The way he held me.
The way he looked at me.
The way he kissed me.
The things he’d said.
I both wanted and didn’t want him to kiss me. It’s all I’ve been wanting to think about ever since the night at the bar, when seeing him in his element with his quirky older friends made me realize there is so much more to this man than I’ve been giving him credit for. And when he held my hand, it made me realize how badly I’d been missing out on physical affection.
How much I’ve been subconsciously craving it from him.
But I also knew that if he kissed me, everything would change. It would make it harder for my decision to not get influenced by my hormones. It would make it harder to stay rational and logical. It would make it harder to not fall for this man.
And I was right.
He may have saved me from going over that edge, but his kiss sent me over it anyway.
Hopefully, there’s still time to save myself.
I turn around and Magnus’s face is right there, those full lips turned up into a sly smile, those dark, magnetic eyes that see right into my soul, right into every thought and intention I have. He knows what I’m about to do. That I’m going to push him away until I can think clearly again.
He’s almost daring me to do it.
God help me if he springs a “question time” on me right now.
“I better go change into something warmer,” I tell him, my gaze dropping from his as I quickly move past him to the bedroom. Behind me Viktor says he’ll get the fire up and running.
I close the door to the bedroom and try to think. We have another day up here in the cabin and I have no idea what’s planned and—
The door to the room opens.
I whirl around in surprise to see Magnus step in and close the door behind him. “Don’t you knock?” I cry out.
“I want to talk to you,” he says, not looking the slightest bit ashamed of barging in.
“Last night,” he says. He lowers his voice. “I kissed you. And, I’m sure against your better judgement, you kissed me back.”
I stare at him as he walks toward me. The way he moves, so smoothly, so confidently, he reminds me of a predator. He’s had way too much practice with this and that thought alone gets my hackles up.
“So?” I manage to say. There’s no place for me to go, the wall is at my back.
He stops right in front of me, close, his shoes almost touching my toes. He peers down at me and I instinctively suck in my breath.
“So?” he repeats, his eyes trained on my lips. “You say that as if it didn’t mean something to you.”
“What was it supposed to mean?”
“That you’re attracted to me.”
I look away, my eyes going to the window, to the snow-dusted trees outside. Suddenly the cabin feels so small. “I think that’s pretty obvious,” I admit quietly.
He lets out a soft laugh. “Obvious? Ella…I can’t get a read on you, no matter how hard I try.”
I bring my gaze back to his, knowing that it’ll be even harder now to look away. There’s something so earnest in his eyes, and it disarms me. Then again, he’s been steadily disarming me for days now.
“I don’t think that’s true,” I tell him. “You had a pretty good read on me last night.”
“That might have been dumb luck that you kissed me back. Or maybe I’m just that good of a kisser.”
I can’t help but smile at that. “You are a good kisser.”
Not that I’ve had a ton of experience but it was definitely the best kiss that I’ve ever had. Kissing him was as easy and natural as breathing.
He studies me closely. “Then why do I get the feeling that you’re going to go on pretending it never happened?”
“Ella?” he adds. “Don’t make me ask again.”
I look at him sharply. “Trying to boss me around? You might be the prince but this princess is her own ruler.”
He grins. “Fuck you’re hot when you tell me off.”
“That was hardly telling you off.”
“Then you’re hot when you do anything. Tell me then,” he says, his eyes skimming over my nose, my lips. “What are you so afraid of?”
I clear my throat, trying to stand taller. “I’m not afraid.”
“Are you afraid that in a day or two you’re going to say yes?”
Of course, that’s exactly what I’m afraid of.
“Ella,” he says softly, putting his hand at my cheek. His palm is so warm, so strong, my eyes automatically close and I lean into it. “If you say no…”
The thought wrenches something inside me.
Because if I say no, he’ll have to find someone else.
Little by little, day by day, I’ve gone from wanting my freedom, my life that I left back in university, to having a hard time imagining a future without Magnus by my side in some way, shape, or form.
I mean, I don’t love him. Most days I don’t even like him. But no matter what mood we’re in or who we are to each other, there’s been one constant. He makes me feel something, like no one else ever has, even if it’s just the fact that my body is starting to ache for his.
And this is why bringing sex and a physical aspect into this makes things that much more confusing.
“You only want me to say yes because you have to get married to someone,” I say. “And I’m convenient. I’m right here. You’ve invested your time. It might as well be me.”
He doesn’t say anything to that and so I know I’m right. If the whole marriage thing was lifted and he was free to do whatever he wanted, I’d be pushed aside and forgotten, just like I normally am.
Some things don’t change, at least not for me.
He sighs and lets his hand drop away from my face. My skin feels exposed now.
“Ella, if you don’t want me now, I have a hard time believing you’re ever going to change your mind,” he says. From the way his arched brows are coming together, he actually looks hurt.
“I didn’t say I don’t want you. I just…this is a big thing.”
Now he’s back to his cocky grin, his default setting. “I know. Almost too big.”
“You know what I mean.” I lightly punch him in the chest, trying to bring this back to the easiness we had before. “I just need some space to figure things out.”
He frowns, like he doesn’t understand, then nods. “Okay. I can give you space. For what little time we have left.” He steps away from me. “What did you want to do today? There’s a small lake not too far behind here, and Viktor and I usually go fishing.”
He sounds so casual now and looks the part, running his hand through his lush hair, that it’s hard to believe he just told me last night that I was everything to him.
It’s just as hard to ignore the way that made me feel.
I take in a deep breath. “Fishing sounds fine.”
“Great, dress warm, put on your boots and—”
He’s cut off by Einar yelling something in Norwegian.
Magnus and I both raise our brows at each other and run to the door, opening it to see Einar staring at himself in the mirror in pure horror while Viktor is keeling over laughing. Einar starts yelling at him again, angry and red-faced, only it just makes Viktor laugh harder. It’s hard to take Einar seriously with that mustache.
“What is he saying?” I ask Magnus.
“Oh, he’s letting loose a few of those swear words you learned. Viktor and I better sleep with one eye open tonight.”
“Are you allowed to play that question game with me?” Jane asks.
I look up from my book, a copy of The Secret Garden, to see Jane standing in the doorway. She looks like she’s just gotten back from the stable and there are a few pieces of straw in her hair. While Magnus and I have gone off and done our things, she started taking an interest in riding, something she used to do as a child.
“You mean question time?”
She walks across the parlor room and sits down across from me. I don’t bother pointing out that she left woodchips and dirt in her wake. She’s gone from Lady Jane to Pigpen.
“Ella, you still haven’t told me what happened at the cabin. Tomorrow is our last day here. You have to make your decision.”
I sit up and look around, making sure Magnus or Ottar aren’t hanging within earshot.
“Relax,” she says. “Magnus went for a run. You’d hear him if he came back. That man can’t be silent even if he tried.”
“He went running too.”
“Right here,” Einar says with his hand up, suddenly appearing in the corner of the room where apparently he’d been sitting for who knows how long.
“Jesus, Einar,” I swear, always jumpy when I suddenly discover him somewhere. “You were easier to spot when you had that mustache.”
He raises his brow at that but doesn’t say anything as he exits the room. It took a great deal of soap and Jane’s extra-strength makeup remover to get that stuff off.
Jane watches him until he’s gone, then looks back to me. “So, what happened?”
“Who says something happened? I mean, other than Einar’s mustache.”
“You and Magnus went from being all starry-eyed and flirty with each other before the trip to staying away from each other like you both have the plague.”